For Immediate Release
Date: Oct 7th, 2010
Contact: Dr. John Thompson
Who Will Speak for Me?
Professional associations throughout the United States are in trouble. Membership is falling and participation in national meetings is now at an all time low. It could be the economy and that might be a reasonable assumption, but the trend began before this recession gained traction. Our American Dental Association has not been immune, and preliminary registration for our national meeting in Orlando indicates a precipitous drop in projected attendance. I have previously written you about the situation with our own Kentucky Meeting and local attendance. It is not so much the attendance at national or state meetings that gives me concern for our professional well-being, it is the loss of membership and member leadership participation that does not bode well for the profession.
I am not going to get political about the changes taking place in our society and the vitriolic rhetoric that follows. It is in times of flux that a level-headed voice of reason is required. This dental profession has been, and continues to be, blessed with talented leadership that (even when I disagree) has been more proactive than reactive. In the area of state and national politics, the ability of leadership to be effective as the voice of a profession is determined by the percent of the demographic that has membership in the organization. In the recent health care debate and legislation, the American Medical Association (representing just 26% of physicians) was cited “as in support of the legislation”. What will it mean to you as a practicing dentist when only 26% of dentists are making decisions that affect all that share this profession?
It is so easy for all of us to settle into our own practices with our unique modes of providing care for our patients. We may be generalists, specialists, educators or public health dentists; it doesn’t matter because the common thread is that we have accepted the responsibility of providing the highest degree of oral health for the citizens of this nation. It is reasonable to assume that we are in fact the professional experts in this endeavor. It is also reasonable to think that public policy relating to health care issues should consult this profession. If we choose to be disinterested and disconnected with our representative association, who speaks for us? The fact that a member of this profession provides personal care for a congressman, a senator, a governor or a president does not necessarily qualify him/her as that source of expertise, but it could. The absence of a representative and credible voice for the profession would provide just the situation where faulty science or manipulated statistics could alter public policy in ways we can’t imagine.
Dentistry is very fortunate in that many of our policy initiatives are derived from membership. Several years ago, the Judge Executive in Pike County decided that it would be a good thing to bring a group called Remote Area Medical to the county to provide free health care for the less fortunate people of his region. The Judge Executive knew that dentistry would be a big part of this event because he had been to Wise County, Virginia to see a RAM Project at work. One dentist, who was quite content in his life as it was, became involved because “my wife made me do this”. Whatever the reason, whatever the circumstance, that general-practice dentist from Pikeville, Kentucky is now the national “go to guy” for RAM Projects from Washington DC to Los Angeles. The heart that this man had for the underserved has only been matched by the organizational skills he has exhibited in his efforts to provide, safe, effective and compassionate care in this humanitarian effort. Dr. Bill Collins has in three years earned the respect and support of his colleagues, the Kentucky Dental Association, and our dental colleges. The United States Public Health Service looks to Bill as a resource in their future projects. Dr. Bill Collins has stepped up and become a true spokesman for the underserved and how limited oral health services can be provided with compassion. He is a valued spokesman for the profession.
We have just completed a rewrite of our Kentucky Dental Practice Act. The regulations that govern our every day practice of dentistry are now in place. This could have been done by a select group of very well intended political appointees without our individual input. It was not. In our last issue of KDA Today, Dr. John Creech, KDA President, candidly detailed the process that led to our new practice act and regulations. As John climbed the ladder of leadership within the Kentucky Dental Association, he never intended to be involved with this rewrite. It was his initial thought that this was a completely unnecessary exercise. We do not control all that is about us and alas it fell to Dr. John Creech to step up as the point man for the professional association representing nearly 70% of practicing dentists in Kentucky. We achieved consensus because we had a unifying voice in the process. If we had to speak as smaller groups than we already are, or as individuals, the outcome would have been significantly different.
It is my hope that all members of this profession, the long committed members, the on-the-fence members, the never-been-a members and all the new-to-the profession dentists will see the value of an association that can at least attempt to represent all of our interests. Dentistry as a profession is, by numbers, too small to be fractured into cliques that will have no significant voice on a stage that will only react to the loudest outcry.
I recently read a book on one of my favorite minor characters in the history of the last century, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Martin Niemoller was a German war hero of the First World War. He had been awarded the Iron Cross. During his second career as a pacifist Lutheran pastor, in 1933 he had sent a congratulatory telegram to the fuehrer, in which he swore his loyalty and gratitude to him. He later became one of Bonhoeffer’s staunchest allies in the German resistance to Adolph Hitler. Many years later, after Niemoller had been imprisoned for eight years in concentration camps by Adolf Hitler, he penned these infamous words:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--- because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--- because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--- because I was not a Jew.
And then they came for me--- and there was no one left to speak for me.